Grassland species growing on small and discrete meadow patches are under severe threat of losing genetic diversity. Studies show that landscape-scale dispersal is a key process linked to the recovery of vegetation, and for maintaining both biodiversity and genetic diversity following restoration. In fragmented landscapes, dispersal of seeds and genetic material is often disrupted, leading to failure in the spontaneous recovery of species richness, as well as in the establishment and maintenanceof genetically diverse populations. Muhu island in the West Estonia archipelago in the Baltic Sea is a unique area with a high concentration of EU Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) priority-for-conservation semi-natural grassland habitat types, and a relatively well-preserved traditional lifestyle. In recent research on the sustainable management of semi-natural grassland communities, one of the findings was that there is a lack of steady and in-depth advice for managers of the semi-natural meadows.
The main objective of LIFE CONNECTING MEADOWS is to restore 200 ha of semi-natural grassland habitats on Muhu, Estonias third largest island. In particular, project beneficiaries will restore alvars (6280*), wooded meadows (6530*) and coastal meadows (1630*), three priority habitats listed in the EU Habitats Directive, to reduce fragmentation between areas of restored and managed grasslands.
The project beneficiaries also aim to: Create and improve conditions for sustainable continuous management of semi-natural grasslands (e.g. mowing machinery and grazing infrastructure, semi-natural grasslands product labelling, advisors); Makepractical use of the research carried out and to test and adjust the restoration planning model for future similar restorations in the way that they would reduce the fragmentation of grasslands; Create an online communication platform for stakeholders (landowners, farmers, conservationists, government officials) to support further management of these valuable habitats; Deliver the knowledge of the value well managed species-rich meadows and ecosystem services to a wider audience; Demonstrate the benefits to biodiversity from the reduced fragmentation through scientific monitoring, and assess socioeconomic impact.
Expected results: 200 ha of priority habitats of EU Habitats Directive restored in the Natura 2000 sites Vike Vin (SPA), Vinamere (SPA), Vinamere (pSCI) , Ranna-Pitse (pSCI), Rannaniidi (SPA), Nmmkla (pSCI) and Oina (pSCI) 55 ha of wooded meadows (6530*), 40 ha of coastal meadows (1630*) and 115 ha of alvars (6280*); Restored habitats equipped with suitable machinery (3 mowers) and grazing infrastructure for continuous management (20 km of fences, 10 electrical generators, gates, 10 cattle grids, 3 all-terrain vehicles, 5 portable animal shelters, 6 freshwater access points, 3 animal collection pens); Increased seed dispersal and number of pollinators; Establishment of dispersal corridors for species; Model for spatial planning of semi-natural grassland restorationand spatial plan for reducing fragmentation of grasslands tested, adjusted and available for restoration planning; Long-term (30 year) tripartite contracts signed with farmers and landowners to bring their cattle/sheep to graze the area annually; Creation of a platform to connect and unite managers and conservationists; 10 meetings with stakeholders and 5 meetings to introduce the project results held; 6 advisors trained to offer an advisory service for semi-natural grassland restoration and management; Newspaper articles, and radio and TV reports on the project, and 5 biodiversity training days held in local community; Publication and distribution of 4 000 booklets in 4 languages; Hiking trail app for Muhu Island available for visitors.